Do you ever find yourself answering the phone to a client late in the evening or while you’re trying to relax at the weekend? Has the scope ever shifted on training but you’ve only been paid for the original brief? Perhaps you have a client who always pays late or turns up late to meetings?

All of these situations are examples of times when there aren’t clear boundaries in place within a business.

There’s a famous saying that ‘a lack of boundaries invites a lack of respect’. It’s very true. When a client doesn’t know where the line is for you – whether we’re talking about your opening hours, the terms of your invoices or why a meeting is taking place – it’s almost inevitable that they might expect more than you are truly prepared to offer.

In other words, give an inch and many clients are likely to take a mile.

When you work for yourself, it’s so easy to think that you have to be on call 24/7. You might see being available around the clock as good customer service or a sign of your commitment to your work.

While these intentions are admirable, they’re rarely without consequences. Out of hours’ calls and emails, short notice deadlines and late payments are just a few examples.

Why boundaries matter

It’s vital to set boundaries in your business. After all, you’re the boss.

Some of the world’s most successful people are able to say ‘no’ and feel OK about it because they understand that, by saying no when it feels appropriate, they are also better placed to say ‘yes’ to the things that really matter to them.

Setting boundaries in your business doesn’t have to be a big deal. Try the following simple but effective ideas:

Stick to your opening hours

  • Publish your opening hours on your website, social media pages and online directories so that potential clients can see when you’re available
  • You might also want to add your opening hours to your email signature or your e-newsletter to remind existing clients of your availability
  • Many trainers find it helpful to have an out of hours’ voicemail message on their mobile and/or landline (if you still have one!) stating their opening times
  • Answer emails and phone calls during your opening hours ONLY – if you struggle to do this during the day because you’re delivering training, try to pinpoint when it is convenient for people to contact you and publicise this

Set your rates

Many self-employed people find it difficult to talk confidently about their rates. Still, it’s your right to decide what you’ll charge for your services, whether you’ll work on an hourly, day or project rate or whether you want to package different service options together.

My advice is to set your rates and stick to them. If a potential client says they can’t afford what you charge, it’s not a reflection of your value but, more typically, a reflection of their budget.

If a business is finding money tight, it isn’t your responsibility to take the loss and charge less.

To make sure everyone understands your rates from the outset, the best approach is to provide a written estimate for the work, with details of what it includes, and ask the client to approve the amount in writing before you begin.

Have a written contract

Many, many freelancers get by without having a written contract in place with a client. Work gets approved via email and a contract is often seen as an unnecessary formality.

However, having written terms and conditions to share with your potential clients, and a contract for work to be completed, is a great way to ensure that both parties are on the same page and that your boundaries are clear.

In your terms and conditions, you can highlight if you charge a 50% deposit upfront, how and where training will be delivered, how you follow up or measure outcomes, when training will take place and much more.

You can also state that you will requote if the scope of the training changes or how much must be paid if the client cancels the training.

With this kind of written information in place, you can refer clients back to your terms and conditions in the event of any boundary-nudging.

It can also help in the rare event that you need legal support, e.g. for non-payment of an invoice.

I think it’s helpful to follow up meetings, etc. with written notes about what’s been agreed that everyone has to check and respond to. Again, this makes it harder for boundaries to shift or the scope of a project to creep into something bigger than you expected.

‘No’ is a complete sentence

Saying ‘no’ can be challenging at first but, by setting boundaries and being prepared to say no, you are showing your clients that you respect yourself, your time and your worth. In turn, this will invite their respect.

Presenting boundaries as statements of fact, i.e. this is my availability, this is what I charge or this is what I will deliver for you, provides transparency. Everyone knows where they stand. It takes the emotion out of things – you won’t feel resentful or undervalued.

In fact, boundaries are an essential part of a happy work life and great customer service.

How good are you at setting – and sticking to! – boundaries in your training business? Do you find it easy or do you need practice? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences around boundary setting.

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